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Chinese Minority Weddings--Part II: Manchu, Hui, Uighur, Miao, and Tujia Peoples

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Fall Volume: 2011 Issue: 18(3) page(s): 32 - 37


Weddings and related food protocols of the largest Chinese ethnic minority population, the eighteen million Zhuang in China, were discussed in Volume 18(1) on pages 20 and 24. This, the second part in this series about ethnic weddings looks at other minority populations continuing in declining population order. They are the Manchu, Hui, Uighur, Miao, and Tujia people. Future issues will look at still other Chinese minority populations and their food-related wedding behaviors. The next article will be the Yi, Mongol, Tibetan, Buyei, and Dong nationalities, then the Yao, Korean, Bai, Hani, Kazakh, Li, and the Dai. This order was selected before the 2010 census reports were tabulated as each of these minzu or ethnic populations exceeded one million people.

MANCHU:
This minzu or Chinese ethnic minority population is the second largest in China. They are also called 'Man' people, and there are about eleven million of them. Their leaders began the Qing or last dynasty in China, ruling the country from 1644 to 1911 CE.

Manchu are descendants of ancient Nuzhen tribes. Most live in the Liaoning Province though there are many in the two other Dongbei provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang. Lesser numbers live in the Hebei and Yunnan Provinces and some do reside in Beijing, Chengdu, Xian, and Huhhot, with smaller numbers scattered throughout the country. All Manchu are reasonably well assimilated with the Han, and many are farmers who raise sorghum, soybeans, corn, millet, and glutinous rice, and tend to their many apple orchards.

The kitchens of this minority population are generally in the middle of their homes, and there, they steam the many grains they consume. Maintaining many food traditions, especially those for major life-cycle events such as weddings, their marital arrangements were usually arranged by parents when their offspring are sixteen or seventeen years of age. Nowadays, these young folk have more say in the process, particularly if they live in a city or large town. Boys who want to select their mates can speak to their parents about that, but in the past it was a matchmaker who was engaged to bring a bottle of wine to the girl's parents or just to the girl's mother, that task exploring any interest.

Usually female, the matchmaker would ask name, birth-date, astrological sign, and family background. She knew those of the suitor and wanted to know if there was any military background in the girl's family. This is important to the Manchu. When the girl's mother, after consultation with her husband and daughter was satisfied on the first matchmaker visit, the mother would say: "That is all for today" so as not to close the door on any future conversations.

Two other visits usually followed. On each of them, the matchmaker brought another bottle of wine or alcoholic beverage as a gift from the boy's family. When the third bottle was accepted, the match was considered 'made.' Soon thereafter, the boy's family would come to visit and just before or when they did, they brought or sent pigs, more alcohol, jewelry, and clothing for the family. They brought nothing for the young lady.

Sometimes, the girl's family opened the third bottle, but most often they set it before their ancestral tablets, and on another occasion when both sets of parents were together, two cups were poured at the alter, each parent taking a drink. They then exchanged cups with their counterpart and repeated the process. The boy, if with them, would prostrate himself before this altar to pay homage to the family of his future in-laws, or he came later to do so. After the completion of these protocols, the couple was considered engaged.

Soon thereafter, the two families shared a feast; this meal still arranged today. It used to be in the bride-to-be's home or courtyard but now it is usually at a local restaurant, and friends and other family members can attend. Usually one, two, or three times, beginning a month before the wedding and up to the day before, the girl's family does send gifts to his family including pigs, alcoholic beverages, hairpins, rings, and clothing.

Traditionally, Manchu weddings were multi-day affairs. On the first day or the day before the wedding, the bride-to-be stays at a home near that of the groom. It could be that of an elder in the community or a place reserved for this. The next day, she goes to the boy's home in a covered cart attended by brothers or other males in her family. Midway there, males from his family meet her party and his brother or a senior male in his family will lift her out and transfer her to the groom's family cart. Sometimes, she jumps from one to the other not letting her feet touch the ground, because if they do, this is said to be an unfortunate omen. Once in his cart, his party leads her the rest of the way.

Custom dictates that just after she makes it into his cart, they meet up with the groom who shoots three arrows at her, intentionally missing, of course. Then he leaves, and his party continues on to his home. This arrow shooting is a public statement that he is marrying a woman who does not flinch under duress.

An altar is set up outside his home and he awaits her there. Together, they stand facing north from whence their ancestors came and they offer obeisance to them. Before she can enter his home, the groom-to-be takes a whip or stick and uses it to lift the red veil from her face so she can toast his ancestors. Then alone, she walks into his home and goes before his family ancestor tablets to honor them.

On a table there is a huge chunk of pork, three cups of liquor, a platter, and a sharp knife. She drinks some of the beverage, eats some of the food, and cuts some for her groom and his escorts who drink from other cups. She then goes to their nuptial chamber.

Nearby, family and friends sing to her, and in the evening will sing again to both of them. They also throw black beans into the nuptial chamber. When the groom arrives there, which can be soon or lots later, she is sitting on the kang or bed awaiting him. Before entering, he walks around the room three times, knocks, and asks if he may enter. When she agrees, he goes in and locks the door.

Inside and together, they approach a table set for them and pour two full glasses of wine. Each one drinks some and they exchange cups and the empty them. Then they share a large dumpling filled with smaller dumplings; this symbolizes the many offspring his family wants them to have.

The next morning, they pay respects to his ancestors and to his parents, and return to the nuptial chamber. On the third day, they leave to visit her family where they pay similar respects. She can now stay there or both can return to live with his family.

Should she stay with her parents, it is only until a child is born. After that, she moves permanently into their nuptial room and lives with his family for the rest of her life. Modern grooms build a room or small house near his parents home enabling their having a place of their own outside his parents home yet near enough for her to tend to his parents as often as they request. However, if he is the eldest male, they usually stay in that nuptial chamber for their entire lives or until his parents die. If he is not the eldest son, they can have some leeway as to how close they live to his parents; an item that is his or the parent's choice, never hers.

HUI:
This minzu population, China's third largest ethnic minority nationality is the most widely distributed of all minority populations in China. There are about ten million Hui in the country, most living in the Northwest in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Smaller numbers live in virtually every other Chinese province and major city. Most Hui people believe in Islam, but do not necessarily practice it the same way as Muslims do outside of China. What they do, if they are religious, is marry on a Friday, and in a mosque.

Hui people do not allow music at their weddings, nor is there any other form of entertainment. One thing they do at the wedding or immediately thereafter is give alms to the poor. Also immediately after the ceremony, a respected elder, usually female, will change the bride's eight braids into two in a special yurt or room set aside for this formal indication she is now a married woman.

Not yet mentioned, before leaving the bride's home for the ceremony or immediately thereafter, and sometimes in both places, bride and groom spread grains around her family residence. They strongly believe that giving alms is important; and it is something they do often.

Formerly called Huihui accoding to the Chinese government, all who practice the Islamic faith are called 'Hui.' This in not accurate because there are other Chinese minorities who practice the Islamic religion that are not Hui but could be Uighur, Salar, etc. Nonetheless, they are called and often counted as members of the Hui minority population. This confusion impacts the size of their population, so numbers of them can be suspect.

Many of this Islamic population live side by side with China's Han or majority people. Thus, over the years many of their engagement and wedding protocols are now similar. For example, parents of a man can and often do hire a matchmaker to propose his union to the parents of a specific girl. This is often done when the girl is not present. If her parents agree, the boy's family sends gifts and sometimes visits the girl's family.

It used to be a practice to send five different sets of gifts. The first was clothing along with two kilos of tea. Various groceries and other edibles were common in the second gift set, and money commonplace in the third one. Accepting these three sets of gifts means the girl's parents and the young lady accept the upcoming marriage. The fourth gift set, usually a month before the ceremony, is a side or two of beef. Should family economics not allow, a large bovine leg and maybe a piece or two of clothing are acceptable substitutes. The meat is always beef because Islamic people do not eat pork. They only eat halal foods, that is foods they consider 'pure' and pork is never one of them.

The fifth set of gifts is given on the wedding day. It is known as 'leaving the mother gift' and it often includes but is not limited to three kilos of beef. This last gift can be given before or after the ceremony. If before, it can be when groom and best man come to fetch the bride for the wedding. In the past, it was customary for this gift to be fifty kilos of wheat; its purpose was to tells her parents not to worry, their daughter will eat well.

When the two groom's men, usually with the groom, arrives to fetch the bride they are served three servings of betel nuts, three cups of tea, some sweets, and a cold plate of beef. They know when it is near time to leave as next comes a chicken dish telling them the bride-to-be is 'ready to fly' as chickens do. However, before she and they do, they are served another dish, a whole fish to wish the couple prosperity.

The bride-to-be is helped into a red sedan chair while the groom gets into a green one. The bride's brother or an uncle holds on to the outside of it and off they go. When halfway there, he leaves and rushes home. Then, when they arrive at the groom's home, one or more elder women open the curtain and feed her a small bowl of red rice mixed with sesame and melon seeds. This is a wish for an early pregnancy and many offspring. After she eats these seeds, she gets out of the sedan chair holding a copy of the Quran, also a red thread. These two blessings are symbolic of Allah and meant to chase away evil spirits.

As she goes to the nuptial room, the groom rushes from his sedan chair to escort her. In that room, are red paper-wrapped brown sugar packets to give to all guests who come to see her there. Some families throw dates at her as she enters this room, and some made sure the quilt on the bed has walnuts, ginkgo nuts, melon seeds, dates, and other seeds stuffed into the corners of the quilt as more wishes for many progeny.

The actual ceremony might be in a mosque or in his home, and it is always performed by an Iman. Before it, this religious leader offers congratulations then asks each one if they really want to marry the other one. After the ceremony, young people gather in the nuptial chamber and tease the couple. Elders are not allowed in. When everyone finally leaves, the groom fastens the door and does not open it until morning.

UIGHUR:

This nationality or minzu population, sometimes spelled Uyghur, or Uygur, include nine million people in China. The correct Pinyin spelling is Uighur. Because of their Dingling heritage and various names, one does read different population numbers; hopefully, this should be corrected when census data provides more accurate numbers of their and all minorities populations.

What will not change is that most of this minority population will live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, an area about one-sixth of China's total land mass. Their name, correctly pronounced is 'wee gur.' It means 'unity' and most are unified in their practice of Islam, in speaking a Turkic-Uighur language, and in tracing their heritage to several ancient Dingling nomadic peoples.

The capital of their autonomous region is Xinjiang, and nearby are Kazakhistan, Kashgar, and Khotan. On almost every street in this region, one can purchase many Uighur staple foods including nang, zhuafan, noodles, milk tea, congee made with oleaster leaves, dried apricots, dried peaches, and several different grains and grain foods. Many do not need to purchase these food items because they raise and herd sheep, horses, cows, goats, and camels, and grow melons, wheat, corn, grapes, rice, sugar beets, and sweet potatoes, and they forage for mushrooms.

Not much is known about Uighur engagement practices but it is known that virtually all marriages are performed by an Imam. They celebrate them with music, dancing, and feasting after the wedding ceremony, and that begins immediately after the bride's ten braids are remade into two braids or a bun.

Near the start of the ceremony, the Imam asks the exact names of both sets of parents and records them, then he tells bride and groom to respect their elders and act kindly to those younger than themselves. He blows air over a bowl of salt water and bread, and someone from each side of the family stuffs some of this bread into the mouth of each of them. They must swallow it all as it speaks of sharing joys and sorrows together, an important Uighur wedding practice.

Then the Imam asks one and then the other if they really do want to get married. This is important because the matchmaker is often the mother of the groom-to-be, the wedding was arranged by his parents without the bride-to-be or her family there at that time. These same questions are asked twice, once at the beginning and once near the end of the ceremony. After this, the marriage is considered final, and guests get to enjoy a huge feast with a paluo made of glutinous rice, carrots, raisons, and lots of mutton and accompanied by different kinds of wheat and corn cakes and lots of milk tea.

There can be alcoholic drinks at Uighur weddings, but not all Uighur drink them. Those that do, consume many different kinds and lots of each of them. Some marriage feasts last two days, some begin in the brides home before the ceremony and end in the home of the groom long after it.

This is not their first feast. On the third day before the wedding, bride and groom often enjoy one at her family home. On the day of the wedding, she dresses for the wedding ceremony and puts on lots of silver ornaments, most from his family, though some can come from hers.

After the ceremony, bride and groom do not sleep together. Three to five days afterwards, they return to her home and stay there some three to five days. The groom usually goes back to his home alone and can come to visit or come to get her soon thereafter or any time he wants to up until three years later. When he does come, often unannounced and sometimes unexpected, she must then go back to his family's home with him where she will stay forever.

MIAO:

This ethnic nationality in China includes some nine million people. They are a group whose origin they question because the Chinese government does not see them as descendants of different ancient but related tribal federations that lived in several regions. They see themselves as many different groups. Because of these differences, they call themselves Blue Miao, Black Miao, White Miao, Green Miao, etc.

If known, their marital protocols can be and often are different, but there are some things in common. Most Miao raise peanuts, sugar cane, paddy rice, sugar beets, soy beans, rape, and livestock. Also, when growing up and helping their parents, some young men and women sleep together before marriage, even if there is no marriage on the horizon. Some, after agreeing to or participating in a marriage, live apart for up to three years, even after the marriage. Some brides live with her parents for even longer, and many go to the groom's home just to help with planting and harvesting. These many differences probably exist because some of their ancestors lived in the north, they and others later migrated south. This may explain some differences.

What is known is most Miao speak a Sino-Tibetan language and most adopted the Roman alphabet in the 19th century. They believe they are an amalgam of seventy different groups. That might explain why their engagement and marital practices vary by village, group, even by household. While some boys and girls do make love and sleep together before marriage, some live with either his or her parents after their engagement and until marriage while others live in her parents home usually until their first child is born.

In the past, several Miao populations practiced polygamy, others had men and women sleep with one or more persons before marriage, still others sang and danced with someone of the same sex before they selected a mate, or had a mate selected for them by their parents. Among those that did cohabit, there was a designated place outside the home where this was allowed and practised. If one did not exist, a room in the girl's home could be and often was set aside for this behavior.

Now, most Miao live in Western Hunan and in the Guizhou Province, also in Yunnan, Guangxi, and Sichuan. Most of their men are farmers, many of their women known for their gorgeous embroidery and batik. It is not uncommon for different Miao families to speak different dialects and practice different religions, if any. What is common among them is they exchange gifts after announcing an engagement.

In the countryside, families of the male often give gifts of live animals to the girl's family when a marriage is considered. If the girl moves into his family home during the days or weeks before the wedding, she is not allowed to touch any cooking equipment until after the wedding ceremony. For some, this restriction remains in effect until after their first child is born.

Some Miao parents engage a matchmaker and those that do have this person propose to the parents of the girl, not to the girl herself. Those that do, bring along a bottle of an alcoholic beverage, some brown sugar, and some dried noodles. If her parents approve, wedding plans go forward after they drink to marital success, arrange the wedding date, and settle the details of the dowry.

Early on the wedding day, the groom comes to fetch his bride and he usually finds roadblocks along the way. He needs to pass them to marry this girl. After he gets to her home, gifts are given to him. They can be animals, sweet wine, other alcoholic beverages, blankets, and shoes. These gifts have secret meanings to the Miao and we were unable to learn their meanings.

Before the wedding, the groom-to-be stays at her home or a nearby neighbor's home and shares a feast with her family, friends, and neighbors. This is separate from any feasts later hel at his family's place. If the girl's family thinks the arrangement is OK, they turn an umbrella upside down, or the girl can sneak it away and into her room to show the matchmaker or the groom that she approves of this match. That, and/or her family provides a chicken dish for the matchmaker to say the proposal is accepted. On another day, the groom-to-be comes and brings wine, meat, and clothes to her home. On this occasion if this is an arranged marriage, the couple formally meets for the first time.

Three days before the scheduled wedding, the groom and/or his family send meat, wine, and clothes, some to be worn at the wedding. The day before the wedding, a married woman in her family comes to remove any hair on her face, and to make up her eyebrows. Her hair is tied with a red string, her many braids combed out and her long hair made into a bun set on top of her head. Early on the day of the wedding, her hair is decorated with silver ornaments, so is the bride who will wear many rings and bracelets.

Her dowry, much of it the very fabrics she wove, is unpacked, cleaned–if need be, and shown off to family and friends. It is then packed to accompany her on the journey to the home of the groom. The last piece she makes before her wedding is her veil. This is embroidered in red, yellow, blue, and black.

TUJIA:

There are eight million Tujia in China, all agree they are one people. In English, their name is spelled several ways including but not limited to Tuchia and Tudjia. This population prefers not to use the word Tujia, but rather calls itself Bizka, a name meaning 'natives' as they are rarely found outside of China. They live mostly in the Western part of the Hunan and in the Hubei Province, and are an agricultural/fisherman population.

When a young Tujia man finds a girl of interest, his family sends a matchmaker with an umbrella to her family and proposes a marriage for their son. In the past, young men could pick their own mates but did not, now most do.

Before the wedding, when the bride first arrives at the groom's home, she walks through a burning frame. This shows she is fearless, willing to endure all hardships with her groom and his family, and that she will stay with him forever. After walking through this burning frame, women there distribute gifts to all guests. It is only now that the ceremony can take place.

After the ceremony, the bride stands on a red carpet and four men carry her to the nuptial chamber. The significance of that is that the wedding is over. One week after the wedding, the couple goes home to her parents bringing gifts of food from his family. They, in turn, give her husband new clothes, food, and drink to take back to his which is where the couple will live forever after. These days there are divorces and if one should happen, she goes back to live with her parents, something considered a shame. Thus for Tujia, divorces are not common.

Tujia, brides do weep a lot before marriage, sometimes for twenty days or more before the wedding. On the day the sedan chair comes for the bride, she weeps even more. During this so-called 'weeping time,' each of the girl's close friends and relatives invite her to a banquet in their home.

The family of the bride sends bedding to the groom's home the day before or on her wedding day. And, if they can afford to, they throw a banquet the day before she leaves her home for his. On the wedding day, still crying profusely, the bride throws chopsticks in front of her and behind her as she gets into the sedan chair that awaits. The chair has flowers in and on it, fresh or painted, and she can be carried to it by her brother or a male relative. Actually, two sedan chairs await, one for her, the other is unadorned and for her friends and companions. Both go to groom's home, the matchmaker walking in front carrying the umbrella.

When they arrive at his home there is a big feast and the groom's men serve glutinous rice cakes to everyone. The morning after the wedding, the bride serves tea to all relatives still there and they give her 'tea money' intended for her use only.

The third day after the wedding, bride and groom go to visit her parents, the groom bringing a basket of fried cakes or dumplings that he made, also a leg of pork. When they are ready to leave her parents and return to his home, her parents give them money as a wedding gift. They do not see them again until the following New Year, or perhaps not again until there is an offspring to show off.

                                                                                                                                                       
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